Twitter figures prominently in Lacy-Zuckerberg interview

by bledsoe on March 12, 2008

One might think that a simple hour-long interview, even an interview with a minor celebrity like Mark Zuckerberg, the 23-year-old founder and CEO of Facebook, would not be enough to inspire bitter heckling and furious public attacks, but one would be wrong.

Sarah Lacy, an author and columnist for Business Week magazine, has interviewed Zuckerberg previously, and was given the assignment to interview him again in front of a crowd of 1000+ attendees of the SXSW Interactive Festival, a five-day media technology conference that recently concluded in Austin, Texas.

The consensus appears to be that the interview was not the greatest ever conducted, but there is a fair amount of disagreement over just how bad it was, as well as exactly why it was so bad. Zuckerberg is apparently notoriously difficult to interview, and a number of people felt that Lacy didn’t ask good questions, injected too much of herself into the interview, or wasn’t enough of a geek to be a good interviewer of Zuckerberg.

One may agree or disagree with any of these assessments (and you can decide for yourself if you watch the video of the interview), but what I find fascinating is the role that Twitter played in what has become a fairly big story, as well as the difference between immediate reactions to the interview compared to later reactions to the interview.

According to a number of articles and blog posts, as well as Twitter's own post archives, reactions of Twitterers to the interview began almost immediately after the interview started, and criticism of Lacy in particular was in some cases downright nasty. This early post from a Wired magazine blog declared the interview to be "disastrous," described Lacy’s interview technique as "unorthodox," and reported on several angry Twitter posts, including one that blamed Lacy for the "train wreck of an interview."

But later blog posts contained quite a bit more information, including additional facts as well as some expert analysis. This post by Brian Solis offers an excellent analysis of the interview, based on a post-interview interview that he conducted with Sarah Lacy. Among the things he learned:

  • This keynote was designed in collaboration with SXSW. They wanted a conversational fireside chat that was representative of their friendship. Together, they decided that they would forgo Q&A in advance. They hired Lacy because she’s a "business" reporter, not a developer or a geek capable of asking technical questions. They wanted a business discussion. But, since its SXSW and not the Web 2.0 Summit, they wanted it to be fun, lively, and engaging.
  • SXSW selected Sarah because of the unique, and professional, friendship she has with Mark. [She’s known him since he was 19.]

Another fascinating post was by Robert Scoble, one of the members of the "Audience of Twittering Assholes," and a well-known tech and social media blogger. In it, he offers his perspective on what happened and why. A particularly interesting comment:

I hate being captive in an audience when the people on stage don’t have a feedback loop going with the audience. We're used to living a two-way life online and expect it when in an audience too. Our expectations of speakers and people on stage have changed, for better or for worse.

While I think that a number of the early criticisms of Lacy on Twitter were mean-spirited and inappropriate, there's no doubt that the presence of Twitter and other online chat room style applications has changed the way certain events can be conducted, and as seen in the Lacy-Zuckerberg interview, many participants will make use of the "immediate feedback" nature of these applications even if the event organizers didn't plan on that. As an evaluator and data analyst, I'm interested not only in how these applications might be used to evaluate conferences, seminars, and other events, but also in how they can change the nature of the event itself.

I plan to post more about this soon. Meanwhile, here are a few more excellent posts and articles about the Lacy-Zuckerberg interview:

The "Nuclear Disaster" At SXSW Was Nothing More Than A Witch Burning

SXSW: Meebo Users Plot Revolt During Dull Panels

@SXSW: Is there an algorithm to fix sexism?

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